I was twelve years old when my father quit drinking. He was 47 years old and remained sober until he passed away last year at the age of 93. My older brother stopped drinking when he was in his twenties and is currently 40+ years sober. My two younger brothers, twins in their fifties, are in recovery and have long-term sobriety. My mother was an active leader of the local Al-Anon group in the hometown where I grew up. The Serenity Prayer was posted proudly on our fridge.
Education, information, and first-hand experience with alcoholism didn’t make a bit of difference in the progression of my own disease. My early encounters with alcohol consisted of either not taking a drink or drinking until I threw up. I was in my early 20’s when I realized that my “off-switch” was either broken or nonexistent. I fully understood that my drinking was going to get worse, and I lived in fear of losing the capability of keeping my secret. For 40 years, I perfected the ability to consume as much alcohol as I could without behaving like a drunk. The times when I publicly exposed myself as being intoxicated were few and humiliating enough to cause me to sharpen my skills of appearing sober. I managed to cover up blackouts and fake my way through conversations. I was a master at picking the brains of others and avoiding having to answer questions. The amount of time and energy that it took for me to balance on that edge of being drunk and appearing sober was exhausting, horrendous, and unsustainable. Eventually, that edge got thinner and thinner until I knew that I was going to fall off. I quit drinking every night before I went to bed and relapsed every evening at 6pm. I didn’t want to drink anymore and didn’t know how to stop.
On April 24th, 2021, I told my husband that I had to go away to an alcohol rehab that had a detox unit. He was shocked but remained calm and started making calls to facilities. On April 25th, I contacted my four adult sons and revealed to them over Zoom that I am an alcoholic and was going to go to an inpatient rehab facility. They were also shocked but offered their unconditional support. Revealing my secret to my family was terrifying and difficult but brought me unexpected relief. On April 29th, I chose to go to Mountainside and arrived there that evening. It took a long, debilitating 40 years for me to ask for help. It took 5 short days for me to get to Mountainside.
The lessons I learned in the classes at Resi East, my clinician’s office, Thuan’s yoga room, and on the mountain are far more valuable than what I learned in any formal educational setting. It was the first time that the subject of study was “ME”. I began to practice how to identify and express my feelings. I found out that feelings aren’t facts. I discovered the meaning of mindfulness and experimented with different ways to be grounded. I connected with people in ways that I never thought would be possible. I figured out the importance of self-care.
My favorite memory of Mountainside is when I decided to try the climbing wall. I was at the gym every morning on the treadmill watching clients tackle the rock wall. I am categorically afraid of heights but felt both safe and empowered enough to approach the wall and try on the climbing belt. The staff member was kind, patient, and fully aware of my fear and shaky knees. At that moment in the quiet gym, as I faced that rock wall, I was 14 days sober. I raised my hands, grabbed onto two holds, and began to climb. I couldn’t look down, I couldn’t hear anything, and I couldn’t breathe. I kept looking up, reaching up, and climbing up until I got to the top. It was there that I faced a much bigger obstacle: GETTING DOWN! Hanging on to that top ledge was the “old Elsie” – skating that fine edge between being drunk and seeming sober as her world got smaller. Letting go and coasting down off of that wall was the “new Elsie” – surrendering and learning new skills with her eyes wide open to the endless possibilities ahead.
I don’t think I need to sell any of you alumni on the value of Mountainside. If I could pass along any advice to anyone in addiction, it would be to ask for help as soon as you sense you need it. I haven’t met an addict who didn’t at some level know that he/she was in trouble. The amount of work I did to maintain balance on that edge and protect my secret was as damaging as the alcohol. While I didn’t blow up the world around me, the injury I did to myself is taking a lot of time and therapy to repair. I will tell you that the time I am spending to heal is so much more rewarding than the time I spent hiding my addiction. I will forever be grateful for my Mountainside experience because my mind, body, and spirit were cared for so gently and professionally.